New Brunswick

Horse Racing NB and FREX hit latest hurdle

One month after Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. changed the locks on Horse Racing New Brunswick's Winners Lounge bar, their strained relationship has taken another turn.

Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. refused to open water valve until bill payment was proven

Roberta Nixon from Horse Racing New Brunswick and Mike Vokey from Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. agree on one thing: the relationship between their organizations has deteriorated. (CBC)

One month after Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. changed the locks on Horse Racing New Brunswick's Winners Lounge bar, the strained relationship has taken another turn.

Just after lunchtime on Tuesday, Horse Racing New Brunswick issued a media release saying it was unable to access a water tap beside the track, despite it having paid all water bills from the associated meter.

Significant amounts of water are needed in hot weather to keep the track surface soft.

HRNB says it also needs access to the water on race days, to clean a barn where horses are tested for performance enhancement.

"I think it's just childish on one level, except that it's costing a lot of money, which takes it out of being childlike, and into a very serious matter," said Horse Racing New Brunswick executive director Roberta Nixon.

"[Fredericton Exhibition said] Horse Racing New Brunswick would need to pay them $1,000 in advance for water for the 2016 year, and from that we were astounded at that demand because we pay all the water bills."

Nixon said last week, her organization asked Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. to re-open the valve. It is normally shut off during colder months.
This metered water source is used to keep the racetrack surface soft during hotter weather. (CBC)

Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. executive director Mike Vokey said the tap was opened up later on Tuesday afternoon when he was able to prove all bills had been paid.

Vokey said he asked for the advance payment of $1,000, because trust has broken down between Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. and its tenant Horse Racing New Brunswick.

"Unfortunately, the Exhibition was in a position where we had to second-guess and make sure," said Vokey.

"Ultimately, we're not here to look after Horse Racing New Brunswick, we're here to look after the Exhibition."

Vokey said there are 11 metered taps on the Exhibition site. The City of Fredericton bills Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. for all 11.

Both organizations say they have a "gentleman's agreement" that Horse Racing New Brunswick pays the bills for its metered tap.

Ongoing feud

Last month, Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. changed the locks on the Horse Racing New Brunswick premises beside the track.

The building includes Winners Lounge and its 25 video-lottery terminals, which Horse Racing New Brunswick says generates it around $390,000 a year.
Winner's Lounge is a Coasters site with 25 video-lottery terminals owned by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. (CBC)

Vokey said his organization's board of directors decided to change the locks due to Horse Racing New Brunswick violating the lease agreement between the parties.

Horse Racing New Brunswick was granted an injunction a few days later that restrains Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. from the premises and allows it to continue operations.

"When they locked us out illegally. I think at that point the writing was on the wall," said Roberta Nixon.

"They started making things more difficult for us starting last November and it really has escalated from there."

Vokey said, ideally, he would want Horse Racing New Brunswick to remain on site.

"It seemed like everything came to a head when the races were reduced down to three and we just felt that in conjunction with the other conditions in their lease that were breached, that it just wasn't working out," said Vokey.

"And it's better for the Exhibition and probably better for all just to terminate the lease."

The current lease ends on Dec. 31, 2016

New site

It comes as Horse Racing New Brunswick faces opposition to a proposed move of its VLT bar to a new site closer to downtown Fredericton.

Last week, the city's Planning Advisory Committee voted against a rezoning recommendation that would allow the opening of a bar with VLTs at 444 Aberdeen Street.

Dozens of residents in the area of the proposed bar attended the meeting to voice their concerns with the plan.

City council votes on the recommendation June 27.